I'll give my bona fides up front: I am a longtime TNC reader, first-time commenter, working comedian in the Bay Area, and sexual assault survivor. The rape joke issue is old hat to women in standup -- the idea that 'rape jokes' are an edgy or unique category of comedy is belied by the fact that just about EVERY comic I know, male or female, has at least one in their repertoire. I have one about the casual use of the word 'rape' in other cultural contexts, and another about how I stopped going to church after I got raped by a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm OK with CK's joke, although I also agree with the letter writer.
Much of comedy is about context. There are jokes I tell in San Francisco that might get me run out of a club on the road; there are jokes I can tell in Oakland that I can't tell in San Francisco, and vice versa -- maybe 'can't tell' is overstating the case, but different jokes work in different contexts.
I've told jokes about race in San Francisco that have made me feel uncomfortable and irresponsible when an all-white audience laughs, because I wonder if they understand everything that's going on underneath the punchline. Similarly, CK's joke can probably play well in some areas, and leave him walking off the stage feeling like he just gave cover and comfort to rapists in others. This is the nature of comedy; audiences are not universal and we can't control for what they'll bring to a show.
That being said, thoughtfulness is always important, even in comedy. Comics only become good comics when their jokes are rigorous and well-tested -- it sounds completely antithetical to everything about comedy, but where CK and Morgan differ is that cruelty isn't a punchline. It can be part of a punchline, but there has to be something SURPRISING about it. Jokes operate on surprise. Although I agree with the letter-writer about rape culture, it is nonetheless improper in polite society to offer such open justification about rape; to most people it's surprising to actually hear, even if it is something lurking in all kinds of cultural shadows, even if some people will find literal validation of their own evil within it.
Conversely, ranting about gay people just isn't that surprising in many places, particularly in TN. I heard from a few friends who saw Morgan's show in SF and said that he did the same bit and got laughs -- maybe because in San Francisco, hearing an over-the-top anti-gay rant is surprising. In most of the country, however, that's not true.
Oh, and to the folks justifying Tracy Morgan by saying they heard he was just 'working out' new material: no, he wasn't. Comics 'work out' new material at open mics -- even the biggest names swing by open mics to drop new jokes -- and tiny clubs in New York and LA where they're amongst other comics who can critique them. They DO NOT work out new material whilst on national tour in front of audiences who have paid top dollar to see them. Being a comedian might seem like a barrel of monkeys, but it's a professional craft and performance like any other.
What I like about this comment is that it points to the fluid nature, across geography, of comedy. But there's also a fluidity across time.
I was, early on, extremely offended by Chis Rock's "Niggers vs. Black People" routine. I read it through an overly-political lens, which, I now think, says more about me than about the joke. My sense was that Rock conveniently papered over the ease with which black people are turned into "niggers" and vice versa. It struck me as ghetto snobbery. (I can't find the video, but I believe that's what Rock called it himself during a 60 Minutes interview.)
I now think it's a rather deft exploration of a real tension that exists among black that is tied to class, but shouldn't be understood as such. No one resents crime more than the people who live with it regularly. I also think that it was riff on the kind of tensions that virtually all people exhibit. Talk to some old heads in Chicago and they'll insist that the early black folks who came up during the Great Migration were of a better stock--hard workers, employable etc. The folks who came up in the 50s were the criminals, the unskilled and the layabouts.
It's also exhibited in white people's own tension over identity reflected in slurs like "white trash" or "redneck." I don't know much about Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't, in some way, there among them too. In short, far from denigrating, I thought the riff was incredibly humanizing in that it showed black people struggling with the same sort of identity problems that plague all groups.
Politics has an important relationship to art, but its a bad idea to read it as rote political theory. Did the act reflect some of Rock's actual feelings? I'm sure there's some of him in there. But that's the beauty of it. "I love black people, but I hate niggers," says something about us, perhaps something not so pretty, and yet beautiful. It certainly reflected some of my own frustrated private thoughts.(I really related to the "Can you kick my ass?!?!!" at the end.)
I understand why Rock stopped performing that joke--it feels like a riff made for a house full of black people. The trouble is that it's quite funny, and humor evinces little respect for our boundaries. Though I wish it were different, I can't say that I offer my full, unvarnished thoughts on black people here. I give quite a bit. But to coin a phrase, this is not a safe space for me or anyone else. We are family--but we kinda aren't.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
Two scholars discuss the ups and downs of life as a right-leaning professor.
“I don’t think I can say it too strongly, but literally it just changed my life,” said a scholar, about reading the work of Ayn Rand. “It was like this awakening for me.”
Different versions of this comment appear throughout Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr.’s book on conservative professors, Passing on the Right, usually about people like Milton Friedman and John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Hayek. The scholars they interviewed speak in a dreamy way about these nerdy celebrities, perhaps imagining an alternate academic universe—one where social scientists can be freely conservative.
The assumption that most college campuses lean left is so widespread in American culture that it has almost become a caricature: intellectuals in thick-rimmed glasses preaching Marxism on idyllic grassy quads; students protesting minor infractions against political correctness; raging professors trying to prove that God is, in fact, dead. Studies about professors’ political beliefs and voting behavior suggest this assumption is at least somewhat correct. But Shields and Dunn set out to investigate a more nuanced question: For the minority of professors who are cultural and political conservatives, what’s life actually like?
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
After the successful Allied invasions of western France, Germany gathered reserve forces and launched a massive counter-offensive in the Ardennes, which collapsed by January. At the same time, Soviet forces were closing in from the east, invading Poland and East Prussia. By March, Western Allied forces were crossing the Rhine River, capturing hundreds of thousands of troops from Germany's Army Group B. The Red Army had meanwhile entered Austria, and both fronts quickly approached Berlin. Strategic bombing campaigns by Allied aircraft were pounding German territory, sometimes destroying entire cities in a night. In the first several months of 1945, Germany put up a fierce defense, but rapidly lost territory, ran out of supplies, and exhausted its options. In April, Allied forces pushed through the German defensive line in Italy. East met West on the River Elbe on April 25, 1945, when Soviet and American troops met near Torgau, Germany. Then came the end of the Third Reich, as the Soviets took Berlin, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, and Germany surrendered unconditionally on all fronts on May 8 (May 7 on the Western Front). Hitler's planned "Thousand-Year Reich" lasted only 12 incredibly destructive years. (This entry is Part 17 of a weekly
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Why thyroid diseases are so common—and still so mysterious
When I first suspected I was suffering from hypothyroidism, I did what any anxious, Internet-connected person would do and Googled "dysfunctional thyroid symptoms," and, in another tab, "hypothyroid thinning hair??" for good measure.
What came up sounded like someone describing me for an intimately detailed police sketch:
heightened sensitivity to cold
unexplained weight gain
a pale, puffy face ("Finally, a medical explanation for this," I thought.)
This, combined with the fact that a close family member had recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, sent me scurrying to the nearest endocrinologist's office. They took a blood test, and two weeks later the results came back. Sure enough, the doctor said solemnly, I had hypothyroidism, which meant my thyroid was under-active. She would be starting me on thyroid medication. She couldn't know for sure, but I might have to take drugs for the rest of my life.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
Dealing with misinformation, feeling powerless, and slowly getting better together
I thought the article would validate my husband’s experience. That’s why I emailed him the link to the decade-old New York magazine article about his alma mater, the American Boychoir School for vocal prodigies, where alumni from as late as the 1990s estimate that one in five boys were molested. Boys like Travis.
“It used to feel like an isolated incident that affected just me," Trav said.
It was the end of my workday on an October afternoon; I had just set my keys on the kitchen table. My coat was still buttoned.
“Now I know I spent nearly three years of my childhood at a boarding school not just with random pedophiles, but in a culture that allowed it.”
As his wife, how do I respond? That he survived? That he’s brave? That he’s a hero for letting me talk about it? That I will stand beside him with a personal mission and public vow that nobody will ever hurt him, physically or emotionally, again, the way they did during his 30 months as a choirboy from 1988 to 1990?.